Fairfax Co. officials worry immigration fears have chilling effect

WASHINGTON — Leaders in Fairfax County, Virginia, worry that concern in the immigrant community about being deported could threaten public trust in local police.

People not being afraid to report crime, ask for help or provide police information help make Fairfax County the safest county for its size in the nation, according to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova.

“We have a very low crime rate,” Bulova said. “If we don’t have that trust, then we jeopardize the safety of our community.”

Officials discussed the issue at Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting.

“I’ll take you back to our mission statement. And that’s to prevent and fight crime,” Fairfax County Chief of Police Ed Roessler said.

Roessler said he is concerned people’s fears may have a chilling effect. He wants to reassure the community it’s OK to call 911.

“Especially when it comes to the crime of domestic violence in our immigrant community,” Roessler said. “We’re here to protect you, not deport you.”

Roessler stressed that local police are not interested in anyone’s immigration status.

“We’re not targeting someone on the street that we may or may not know is here unlawfully,” said Deputy County Executive David Rohrer.

But he emphasized Fairfax County is not a so-called sanctuary county. Illegal immigrants will be turned over to the feds if their arrest and information being entered into a federal database alerts Immigration and Customs Enforcement that they’re wanted.

“And again, we have no prohibition for police officers or deputies or anyone to collaborate or to contact ICE, to share information or to ask for assistance in a case,” Rohrer said. “So, we are not a sanctuary, in our mind, in any way.”

Outreach to educate and reassure the immigrant community about issues pertaining to law enforcement and the legal system includes, for example, a county-sponsored forum Sunday at Northern Virginia Community College. The number of people registered to attend that event has already exceeded capacity.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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